Monday, February 27, 2017

From ‘Diplomatic Baggage. The Adventures of a Trailing spouse’ by Brigid Keenan


…….plant historian…..who had traced the origins of our ordinary English apple to Kazakhstan. He told me about the remnants of fruit forests in the Tien Shan mountains, and how the Silk Route should really be called the Apple Route and how the Mongol hordes carried dried apple, full of vitamins, in their pockets as they galloped down from Central Asia…..how apple cultivation slowly moved west, and that grafting was mentioned on clay tablets written in 2500 BC discovered in Syria and, later, illustrated on a Roman mosaic.

Its been a constant mystery to me, travelling the world, why barking dogs don’t seem to bother their owners as much as they do everyone else in the neighbourhood.

Kazakhstan is a huge country – two-thirds the size of India (but with only 14 million people)

The Tajiks are much friendlier than the Kazakhs who don’t smile much at all – one of the thinnest books in the world could be Kazakh Charm – though Kazakh Road Sense would run it pretty close …….there is a whole section in the market where, to my amazement, they sell ready-prepared Korean food. This is because Koreans were one of the ethnic groups living in the Soviet Union that Stalin banished to the empty lands of Central Asia – along with the whole Russian-German community, the Chechens (every single Chechen was expelled from Chechnya), Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, and many others. Apparently more than a hundred different minorities are living here, and their presence is witness to the fact that fifty years ago the name Kazakhstan stood not for oil and gas as it does today, but for gulags, exile and suffering. (Dostoyevsky, Trotsky and Solzhenitsyn were each sent here at one time or another.) All these displaced minorities , together with Uighurs (from Xinjiang, Western China), Mongolians, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz who have migrated here from bordering countries, added to the native Kazakhs and the millions of Russians who stayed on after Kazakhstan became independent…….almost everyone here has at least one gold or silver tooth; some have a whole mouthful like Jaws in James Bond.

….I set off with Yuri…..He insists that I sit in the back of the Land Rover and though it seems daft, I don’t resist because I remember the driver in India begging me not to sit beside him, explaining that this colleagues had teased him, saying that he couldn’t be working for anyone important because the Memsahib didn’t sit in the back of the car.

…..I had a good look at Almaty. It has some really pretty architecture: there are hundreds of charming wooden cottages and shutters all painted in different colours – these, I am told, were built by the Russian pioneers who, in the last century, came east to this empty land in search of a new life.

It used to be said that ex-pats talked about their servants the whole time – I can see why this might be true because most of the time their lives are much more exciting than ours…. Our first butler in Syria, a really gentle man who was captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Damascus, came with glowing references about his honesty, trustworthiness etc.etc. but we discovered after he left that he’d been in prison in Syria (GBH), Italy (drug dealing) and Turkey (illegal immigrant). Even his departure was odd; he told us he had to take emergency leave and fly back to Sri Lanka as his father was ill, but the gardener, who saw him off, said he took a bus to Moscow. We never saw him again.

The women here are extremely pretty and all of them have amazing figures with legs six feet long ……Every man I’ve ever heard of who has been posted to any part of what used to be the Soviet Union has found a new wife there.

When the Russians introduced collective farming at the end of the 1920s and early ‘30s it was an utter disaster for Kazakhstan- the nomads slaughtered their herds rather than accept this new and totally alien way of life, and then came a famine in which about two million people – half the population – died. Others were executed for not obeying orders, and many fled to Mongolia (where thousands of Kazakhs still live in yurts). In Kazakhstan the remaining people were gathered in kolkhoz, or collectives, and their ancient nomadic way of life with its customs and traditions was extinguished. All Kazakhs, though, are still very much aware of which tribe and which Horde – the Great, Middle or Lesser Horde – each family belongs to……..Since the country became independent in 1992, the kolkhoz have become more like ordinary villages, and in some, people have revived the habit of taking their herds up to the high pastures to graze in summer……….it is clear that the relationship between the Kazakhs and the Russians still living here is strained. The newly oil-rich Kazakhs are top dogs now, whizzing round town in expensive cards……..and the Russians, who once ruled the place, have to find what jobs they can……The Russians believe they developed this country and that without them it would be nothing, and they tend to look down on the Kazakhs…..

Ethiopia was one of the first countries in the world to become Christian

The shopkeepers were so unhelpful and rude after London. In fact, they were positively obstructive – before you’d even asked a question, they’d be getting their lips pursed ready to form the word ‘Non’. ……Dog mess was the other thing that drove us mad in Brussels. It was everywhere……..All this said, going back to Brussels two decades later I found the shopkeepers had had a blanket personality change: they were all charming, even helpful – in fact they made London shops seem boorish – and I went round in a state of pleasant shock. But the dog poo problem was as bad as it had ever been, maybe worse…

……Trinidadians being the most hospitable, upbeat, party people on earth…..Trinidad was an extraordinary place where every creed and race did seem to have an equal place, and whats more, they had come together to form one distinct national identity. A Trinidadian could be any colour or mix of colours, but he/she shared a common humour and language. That was impressive. But it was also an anarchic place – there was a feeling it oculd all fall apart in undisciplined chaos when the potholes in the roads became too big to drive over; when the servies stopped altogether, when the violence got out of control.

When Trinidadians had called Barbados ‘Little England’ they did not mean it as a compliment – to them, it was shorthand for boring and dull. It was true that the island lacked the fizz and sparkle and fun of Trinidad. The food was pretty English too……….and completely lacking the tasty input of the big Indian and Chinese communities that lived in Trinidad….

Nothing in India ever quite worked out how it was intended……….This, the human error factor, was what drove you bananas in Delhi, but it was also precisely the most endearing thing about the place, because it meant that you never knew what was going to happen next. In India, truth was always stranger than fiction…..I always felt slightly guilty reading the Indian newspapers at breakfast – the stories were better than any book. MAN BITES SNAKE TO DEATH; STRAY DOG STEALS NEW BORN BABY FROM HOSPITAL; YOUNG GIRL KIDNAPPED FROM HER HOME TWELVE YEARS BEFORE TURNS UP ON DOORSTEP AS A BLIND BEGGAR AND IS RECOGNIZED BY AN OLD SERVANT AND SAVED.

With its huge population, events in India were always over the top – we once read a newspaper stody about a car accident, which read ‘…..of the 33 people travelling in the jeep, 16 died immediately’, etc.etc. …….When you saw the word ‘mishap’ in an Indian newspaper, you had to brace yourself for something terrible. A mishap in Britain might mean knocking over a cup of tea at the vicar’s party, but in India it meant disaster, as in FERRY MISHAP KILLS 250. There was also the tendency to describe organizations as ‘bodies’, which lead to some gruesome headlines: NEW HEAD FOR BODY, FARMERS TO OPEN BODY……

There were so many things to cry about in India – the desperate poverty, the deliberately mutilated child beggars, the perishing cold in winter for those living on the streets …….But there were many things to smile about too……..

The Indian stare is a truly amazing thing – an unabashed, open-mouthed, un-blinking gawp, done as close to the victim as the starer can get.

My sister Moira used to say that in her memory our childhood in India was in Technicolour and that when we came back to England it all became black and white.
When next day I went to the local supermarket to stock up on food, I suffered severe reverse culture shock. It was so extraordinary to be buying meat and chicken without a hanky over my nose and feeling sick. No one was throttling squawking chickens or spitting; there was no blood on the floor, no buckets of yellow claws, and no legless beggar dragging around in the dirt. But nor were there any traders flicking flies off their stalls with balloons on sticks like mad morris dancers. There were no mounds of spices, no tender young vegetables picked that morning, no bargaining, no laughter. And was it right, I kept wondering, for people to be so shielded from real life – should we be allowed to forget that a family pack of eight skinless, boneless, chicken breasts once belonged to four hens?

…….in the Gambia, successful men there often had several wives. If you were particularly fond of one wife and wanted her to come with him to your dinner, you had to find out which nights she spent with her husband, and then make sure your dinner invitation was for one of those – otherwise, we learned from experience, a wife you’d never clapped eyes on before would turn up on his arm.

….in Syria….It was obvious (to me anyway) that the Arabs and the Irish share so many characteristics: bad ones like being hot-tempered, vengeful and jealous, and good ones like charm, emotion, warmth, a liking for good company, and a love of words – a famous poet died while we were in Damascus and AW and I were astonished at the numbers of ordinary people who turned out for the funeral…….. I’ve never been anywhere where the people were so anxious to make you welcome or where the food was so delicious. In Syria, the longer the hostess spends preparing a meal – chopping, stuffing, shaping, mincing, grinding, rolling (Syrian food is very labour-intensive) – the more she shows love and honour to the guests ………There is an Arab saying, ‘If you love me, eat’,…………

Syria is so teeming with ancient remains that treasure-hunting is quite a profitable hobby…….Once AW, walking in the desert, kicked up a stone – except it wasn’t a stone, it was part of a child’s toy chariot, we were told by the museum, dating back three thousand years. …….in Syria…..there are so many different versions of Christianity: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Anglican, Syriac, Nestorian, Armenian, Armenian Catholic and so on…..

……..cupid’s bow mouth (a charming feature of Kazakh faces)

The other day Lucy and her friends took us to eat at the place that must be the best value in Almaty – the Govinda restaurant run by the Hari Krishnas (who seem to have a big following here). For 450 tenge (under £2) you get a tray of various delicious vegetarian curries with puris (Indian fried bread) and wonderfully creamy rice pudding.

Kyrgyz people seem to be much softer and pleasanter than Kazakhs.

Most of the traders had come from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both famous for their embroideries and textiles…..

Tajikistan felt much more like ‘home’ than Kazakhstan. The people are of Iranian descent: good-looking and charming…….

Travellers are fond of saying that Samarkand is a disappointment because it is over-restored, and that you can see the difference between the magical luminous blue of the old tiles and the dull new ones used in the restoration.

……the extraordinary carpets made by the Uighurs……

I suddenly had the idea that, when the time comes, instead of going into an old folks’ home in England (where, I’ve just read in the Guardian Weekly, 80 per cent of inmates are dosed with tranquilizers no matter what illness they have) it might be better to join the Hari Krishnas. They are kind to old people, the food is delicious, the houses warm as toast, the music is nice and it would be easier to dress with arthritic hands, since there are no zips or buttons on the robes to cope with…



From ‘Being the Other. The Muslim in India’ by Saeed Naqvi


Hai dua yeh ki mukhalif jo hain dharey mil jaeen
Aaj phir Kausar O Ganga ke kinarey mil jaeen

(It is my prayer that the streams of Hindi and Urdu must join, like the Sangam;
Kausar, the river of paradise, must mingle with the holy Ganga.)

Jumman is a common name for a low-caste Julaha or weaver. It is also shorthand for the largest number of converts at the hands of proselytizing groups……Ashraf or genteel, the well-bred elite. Below the Ashraf were ‘Ajlaf’ or the Julahas (weavers) and ‘Arzal’, the menial class……… Sayyids prided themselves on being direct descendants of the family of the Prophet. In the list of the Muslim elite, which consisted of landowners and other upper-caste Muslims like Shaikhs and Pathans, Sayyids were the most influential. Their status in the Muslim society was similar to that of Brahmins among Hindus.

A basic rule of thumb was: culture came from Persia, Islamism from Arabia. The Persian stream had tributaries of Sanskrit, Awadhi, Brajbhasha flowing into it, enriching it to a point that it became something organically new. It came to be known as Urdu culture, totally independent of religion. Arabic remained the language of the Quran, and, therefore, the language of prayer and of religious reform.

Shias are in agreement with the followers of the family of the Prophet on the issue of succession after the Prophet’s death in 632 CE. By their reckoning, Ali should have succeeded him as the first caliph. He was the first convert to Islam, an outstanding soldier who led most of the Prophet’s campaigns. He was, at the same time, an exceptional administrator and scholar.
Did the Prophet nominate him as his successor? Shias cite the incident at Ghadir Khumm as clinching proof…. three months before his death…..the Prophet halted at a place called Ghadir. He lifted Ali’s hand and proclaimed Munkunt O Maula, Haza Ali Maula (They who consider me their Maula or leader appointed by God, must also consider Ali their Maula). This line has become an essential declaration of faith at the start of every Qawwali session ……… Qawwal’s go into ecstasy singing the ‘Qaul’ or declaration of Ali’s prophethood. No Samma (qawwali sessions in Sufi shrines) can be held without the Qaul. Interestingly, a large percentage of the audience at a Samaa is usually Sunni. This is ample evidence of Sufi influence on Sunni Islam in India. ……I have shown elsewhere ……..there is a blurring of the boundaries between Shia and Sunni in the cultural sphere
The ‘Qaul’ or the proclamation of Ali as the Prophet’s successor constitutes the basic fault line dividing Shias and Sunnis. …….Sunnis believe the Prophet’s real successors were the ‘Sahaba’ or his companions ……….This decision was endorsed by the elders at a meeting place called Saqeefa. Basically, Shia-Sunni differences have their origins in tribal divisions within the overarching clan, the Quresh.

In India, more particularly in Awadh, Shia-Sunni were social categories. ……the Sunnis form the majority, while the elite Shias form nearly 20 per cent of the Muslim population in India. The proportions in Pakistan are similar.
All Muslim rulers in the medieval period, from the Delhi Sultans right up to the Mughals, were Sunnis. But there was a large sprinkling of Shias in their courts, and they had a prominent role to play in the fields of education and administration. This elevated status accorded to Shias by the emperors and kings of large kingdoms explains the presence of Shia satraps and regional rulers in such diverse places as Awadh, Deccan and Bengal.
The first Islamic probe into India was Muhammad bin Qasim’s arrival in Sindh in the same year as the Muslim arrival in Spain – 711 CE. But it can be argued that Islam’s contact with India predates Muslim invasions. We know this because of clues like the Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kerala, built by Malik bin Dinar – a disciple of the Prophet, and named after Cheraman Perumal, a nobleman – at a time when the Prophet was still alive…….. Only a stretch of water separates the Arabian Peninsula from the coast of Kerala. Trade links across the oceans predated Islam by thousands of years.

Bad publicity given to the ‘Mussalman in India’ by Mahmud [of Ghazni] was made worse by Muhammad Ghori (1175), Timur (1398) and, about five hundred years later, by Nadir Shah (1739) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (1748). That the victims of the raids by these conquerors were mostly Muslims has been lost in the popular narrative. After Abdali’s raid, for example, Meer Taqi Meer, the great poet, became homeless.

……..one of the most important centres of Shiaism in the subcontinent was the Awadh region …….

Wajid Ali Shah (1822-1887), the last ruler of Awadh, was indisputably one of the country’s most spectacular rulers. Besides being a popular ruler, his contribution to music, Kathak, poetry and theatre was enormous....

……body blow Muslims had taken in under a hundred years – first, there was the annexation of Awadh, then the brutal suppression by the British of the 1857 Uprising, followed by the Partition of India in 1947 without any reference to the people directly affected by it, and finally the abolition of zamindari …..Nehru assured Muslim rajas and taluqdars that zamindari abolition would not follow so soon after the trauma of Partition…….The Muslim League did not touch the issue of land reforms. How could it, when its support base was the landed gentry, exactly the class which dominates the Pakistan National Assembly to this day?

Sufis of the Chishti School had so internalized the divine experience that namaz to them was sometimes a superfluous ritual. This had influenced Shia thinking too.
Josh Malihabadi wailed about this circumstance in Karachi:
Sab se zyada khauf hai is baat ka mujhey
Dum tor dein kaheen na meri waza darian
Aisa na ho ke aihle suboo se bigar kar
Aale wuzoo se gaanthna par jaaen yaariyan
(I dread the day my way of life is compromised
Will I have to break ranks with my friends in the tavern?
I shudder to think that I may have to line up with
supplicants in prayer)
Namaz was important but it was not the highest priority. The Shias of Awadh, distinct from Shias elsewhere, had learnt to live with this paradox.

My grandfather…..friend of ….the high priest of Dewa Sharif, the Sufi shrine outside Lucknow……asked him. ‘Why don’t you say your namaz regularly?’ Waris Shah’s response was succinct: ‘Where is the space for me to kneel and go down in prayer?’, in other words – ‘He is in me’, the very essence of Advaita monotheism.
Notionally, Mecca and Medina are equally holy to both Shias and Sunnis, but in practice, Shias have different priorities – Najaf, Karbala, and Damascus, where the shrine of Zainab (Imam Hussain’s sister) stands, are the most sacred pilgrimage centres

With the decay of the feudal hierarchy, the lower middle class, always more religious in every society, gained upward mobility. It is around this class that religious groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami formed clusters. These clusters were 100 per cent Sunni. No Shia was ever a member of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind of Deoband, Tableeghi Jamaat, Ahle Hadith or what is known as the Bareli group. The various militant groups …. are Sunni without exception.

After the shock of 1857, the British strategy was obvious: devise ways to keep Hindus and Muslims in conflict. ….the British component in the armed forces in India …..numbers rose from 20,000 in 1857 to more than 60,000 in the next two decades, the provision of beef for British troops became a priority………The British establishment kept itself insulated from Hindu anger by allowing official underlings to point fingers at Muslim butchers who actually performed the physical act of slaughtering the cows. This led to numerous Hindu-Muslim riots. Exhaustive correspondence between British officials, quoted by senior Gandhian scholar Dharampal – who spent months in the India Office Library and the British Museum in London studying British records on the subject – shows the Raj deliberately provoked Hindus against Muslims, sowing the seeds of the divide and rule policy…..

Note Nehru’s tone in a letter he wrote to Jinnah on 6 April 1938, after refusing a coalition with the Muslim League:
…the Muslim League is an important communal organization and we [Congress] deal with it as such. But we have to deal with all organizations and individuals that come within our ken. We do not determine the measure of importance or distinction they possess.
Jinnah replied:
Your tone and language again display the same arrogance and militant spirit, as if the Congress is the sovereign power. I may add that, in my opinion, as I have publicly stated so often, that unless the Congress recognizes the Muslim League on a footing of complete equality and is prepared as such to negotiate for a Hindu-Muslim settlement ….a settlement would not be possible.
The Nehru-Jinnah personality clash was not a negligible factor when it came to events that led to Partition.

……..Vallabhbhai Patel ……..Lord Archibald Wavell made the following entry about him on 17 March 1947 in his book The Viceroy’s Journal: ‘He is entirely communal and has no sense of compromise or generosity towards Muslims, but he is more of a man than most of the Hindu politicians.’
Michael Brecher in his biography of Nehru is equally blunt: ‘Patel is a staunch Hindu by upbringing and conviction. He never really trusted the Muslims and supported the extremist Hindu Mahasabha view of the ‘natural right of the Hindus to rule India.’……’

Sunnis were the overwhelming majority among Indian Muslims. Shias – the intellectual and feudal aristocracy among Muslims – were totally indifferent to the call for Khilafat.

……….I cannot think of any place in the world which has accorded hospitality to more religions than Kerala. Christianity flourished here when our cousins in Europe were still rather behind by any measure………communism – was given entry into Kerala for the first time in the world through the ballot box, in 1957………Cheraman Perumal mosque in Cranganore (Kodungallur), Trissur district. This mosque was built when Prophet Muhammad was still alive. ……visit Calicut ….for a Muslim guru in the classical Brahminical mould, C.N. Ahmad Mouli. He will ….furnish proof that the columns in Kaaba (Mecca) are made of teak from Kerala; the Kaaba…….predates Islam by thousands of years…..On the way to Sabarimala you will be required to obtain vibhuti from the shrine of the Muslim saint, Vavar Swamy, before you have Ayyappa’s darshan. Incidentally, the best songs dedicated to Vavar Swamy have been sung by Yesudas – a Christian singer and an Ayyappa bhakt.

Hai Ram ke wajood pe Hindustan ko naaz;
Ehle nazar samajhte hain usko Imam-e-Hind.
(The very being of Ram, is the pride of Hindustan;
Men of vision respect him as the Imam of Hindustan.)
That was Iqbal on the son of King Dashrath

…..shrine of Shah Sharif outside Aurangabad. One of Shivaji’s ancestors was his devotee – in fact, he named his sons Shahji and Sharifji as an act of respect to the Haji Malang in Thana……..In Pirana, Gujarat, stands the shrine of Imam Shah Baba that was once looked after by the Hindu Patels…….Kutch……Garasia and the Fakirani Jats – Muslims with faith in the Hindu Mother Goddess. In Rajasthan….temple of Goga Merhi in Ganganagar, which has ‘Praise be to Allah’ inscribed in Arabic on its gate. For eleven generations the pujari of the temple has been a Muslim. In Jaisalmer, the Manganiars and the Langas, both Muslims, sing Meera Bai, Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Lateef with the same devotion as the Meos of Alwar and Bharatpur sing their version of the Mahabharata or ballads devoted to Hazrat Ali. Syncretism in all these places is being challenged because religious intolerance is increasing. ………Raskhan’s verses about the naughty boy from Gokul. The real name of this great Krishna bhakt was Sayyidd Ibrahim…..people in Orissa who to this day welcome Jagannath with songs written by Salbeg, a Muslim by birth……..the Sufi order of the Kashmir Valley called itself the Rishis. It was founded by Nuruddin Wali, popularly known as Nund Rishi. His songs dedicated to the great yogini Lalleshwari or Lal Ded are at the very heart of Kashmir’s composite culture. The Rishis were avowedly spiritual heirs of Hindu asceticism and Advaita Shaivism…..Adam Malik from Batkote village in Pahalgam who discovered the Amarnath shrine. To this day, one third of the proceeds from the shrine go to the descendants of Adam Malik.

After the demolition [of Babri Masjid] and subsequent riots, covert dislike of Muslims in this country has become a lot more open and frequent….

….interview ….with Bhaurao Deoras …….
Deoras: I think Advaniji….not a word in his lectures…..is anti-Muslim.
Naqvi: But look at the slogans going on in Aligarh, in Hyderabad. You are aware of the poison of Ms Uma Bharati’s tapes……Do the slogans contained in Ms Uma Bharati’s tapes offend you?
Deoras: I do not like it.
Naqvi: Therefore you should stand up and condemn the provocative slogans
Deoras: I do not like the meanings behind the slogans. At present, just as no Muslim will like to make a statement, I will also not like to do so.

What did I make of the Frontier Gandhi from my stay with him …..he came across as a wise and measured leader. But at times I also assessed him as someone with human frailties and idiosyncrasies. Before he retired for the night he would count the shawls gifted to him to see if some had not been stolen by his personal staff….And when ordinary folk called on him in the night he would send them away with disdain. But he would be only too willing to meet VIPs and royalty…..He placed great premium on ‘achcha khandan’ or ‘good family’.

Godhra, 120 kilometres from Ahmedabad, population of two lakhs, approximately half of them Muslim – an invisible line divides the city into two communal zones. ….some members from the more prosperous side of the dividing line describe the others as ‘Pakistanis’…..On the morning of 27 February 2002, angry kar sevaks were returning from Ayodhya on the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express. The reason for their anger: the loss of the BJP-RSS combine in the UP elections that had taken place days earlier on 24 February……the returning kar sevaks had been misbehaving with passengers and hawkers, and teasing women in burqas. This behavior continued throughout the journey, at various stations including Dhanol, one stop before Godhra. On 27 February, as the train pulled out of Godhra, a Muslim hawker chased kar sevaks, who hadn’t paid him, into Coash S-6. The hawker’s daughter pleaded with the sevaks. She was dragged into the train. Her father’s beard was pulled. He was abused and asked to say ‘Jai Sri Ram’. As the train began to leave the station, it was pelted with stones by a mob that had gathered…….Remarkably the mob pelting stones at S-6 and S-5 consisted mainly of Muslim women……The majority of Muslims in Godhra are a group called ghachis – low in education, high on crime…..The women do not veil themselves and are in every sense as tough as the men……..A dozen years after the tragedy, and despite numerous committees and inquiries, there are several unanswered questions including a key one: who set fire to S-6?

During the riots, mobs destroyed the grave of Wali Gujarati, Urdu’s first great poet….He wrote: ‘Koocha e yaar, ain Kashi hai/Jogia dil wahan ka basi hai (My beloved’s neighbourhood is like the holy city of Kashi where the yogi of my heart has taken residence)’ In Vadodara, rioters tried to desecrate the grave of the greatest singer of the Agra gharana, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan. ‘Man Mohan Braj ke rasiya’…..Never was this passage sung better in Raag Paraj. Among more gruesome atrocities, it was also this heritage that was laid to waste in Gujarat during those deperate times.

Despite Vajpayee’s RSS lineage, he never came across to me in grim, communal light – in fact, I found him less divisive than Congress ministers like P.V. Narasimha Rao, for instance. I base this observation on years of reporting and interacting with a procession of Indian prime ministers. No one can lay blame at Vajpayee’s door for patently anti-Muslim policies…. Vajpayee belonged to a party which regarded Indian Muslims as the Other. But he recognized that if the country was to come together and move forward, the Muslims would have to be reassured and integrated into the idea of India and Bharat.

Nehru’s Hindu background did not stand in the way of non-aligned Muslim nations embracing him as their own. Raees Amrohvi, a Pakistani poet of Awadh origin, wrote…..
Jap raha hai aaj maala ek Hindu ki Arab.
Baraham-zaadey mein shaan-e-dilbari aisi to ho!
(The Arab world is chanting the name of a Hindu!
A Brahmin with such an incredible ability to win hearts
and minds!)
Hikmat-e-Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ki qasam!
Mar mitey Islam jis pe, kaafiri aisi to ho!
(Look at the vision of Pandit Nehru!
A non-believer and yet the world of Islam lies at his
feet!)
Nehru remained the undisputed leader of the Afro-Asian bloc until his death……..Special links with Muslim nations in this grouping was a matter of comfort to Indian Muslims……

………..scientist Saymond Aron judged Andre Malraux as ‘one third genius, one third false, one third incomprehensible’. …those proportions may quite accurately apply to Nehru.

My association with Vajpayee was spread over his two spells in government. He was external affairs minister in the post-Emergency Janata Dal. This is when he revealed his admiration for Nehru….on his first day in office….. ‘I remember with reverence that Pandit Nehru once sat on the chair I am about to occupy.’

When Vajpayee lost the 2004 election, his greatest regret was that he could not complete his agenda on Pakistan. His principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, was heartbroken. He said: ‘We had very nearly placed our Pakistan policy on an irreversible track’

What has been a consistent feature of Moditva is the sectarian abuse of a section of his party.

What was the death toll in the killing fields of Jammu? There are no official figures, so one has to go by reports in the British press of that period. Horace Alexander’s article on 16 January 1948 in The Spectator is much quoted; he put the number killed at 200,000. To quote a 10 August 1948 report published in The Times, London: ‘2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated ….by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.’ Reportedly, as a result of the massacre/migration, Muslims who were a majority (61 per cent) in the Jammu region became a minority….Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar wrote an article in the Times of India on 18 January 2015……. ‘Today, Jammu is a Hindu majority area. But in 1947 it had a Muslim majority. The communal riots of 1947 fell most heavily on Jammu’s Muslims; lakhs fled into what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into Hindu majority ….In sheer scale this far exceeded the ethnic cleansing of Pandits five decades later.’
Aiyar concludes: ‘The tragedies of J&K constitute a long, horrific tale of death and inhumanity. It has many villains and no heroes. Both sides have been guilty of ethnic cleansing.’


From ‘Beware Falling Coconuts. Perspectives of India by a BBC producer’ by Adam Clapham.


Life, I have learnt, is deemed much too short and too precious to waste time dwelling on its misfortunes. Despite all the burdens of everyday existence-perhaps because of them-Indians seem better able than their counterparts elsewhere to relish and celebrate the wonder that is the human spirit. That is the heady stimulant which has prompted my travels and the writing of this book.

Fort Cochin boasts one of the most spectacular harbours on the entire Indian coast…..

Spanning the river at Karwar, the railway traverses a spectacular pencil-thin white viaduct, almost skimming the surface of the water. In a country known for the ugliness of its ferro-concrete edifices-which rival only those of the old Soviet bloc in their awfulness-this is a design of extraordinary flair.

In Delhi I was approached by someone from the prime minister’s [Mrs. Gandhi] office who wanted to know why the BBC had stopped supplying the prime minister’s favorite programme to Doordarshan. The program was the award-winning political comedy Yes, Minister which poked fun at British government officials. It rang many bells in India and was hugely popular. I made some enquiries in London. The BBC had stopped sending the programmes because Doordarshan hadn’t paid the bill. I reported to the prime minister’s office and, in no time, Yes, Minister was back on air.

……Laura lives in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, a third floor apartment at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, looking through the Gateway of India into Mumbai harbor….

“No problem,” they said-the Indian catch phrase that surely means some terrible complication is on the horizon.

There are few places that I have seen as beautiful as Kashmir. The Dal Lake really takes your breath away. Four kilometres long and just as wide, it glistens in the cool reflection of the Himalayas to the north and the Pir Panjal mountain range to the south.

In Pakistan, under Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah, three of the four regional governors were British………. General Douglas Gracey did not step down as Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan army until 1951 and Vice Admiral Sir Stephen Carlill, the last British chief of India’s naval staff, stayed on until 1958, eleven years after independence.

The island of Mauritius is bang in the middle of nowhere, a thousand kilometres east of Madagascar and double that distance south of Cape Comorin. Half the population is Hindu, about a third Christian and the rest mostly Muslim. There’s African and European blood added to the mix…….Mauritius is rather like rural south India and therefore not a very urgent place.

Until uncommonly provoked, Indians treated the British with tolerance and affection. Amazingly, they still do.



From ‘Ticking along Free. Stories about Switzerland’


The Myth of the Lousy Swiss Lover by Sarah Paris
“Heaven is where the cooks are French, the policemen English, the mechanics German, the lovers Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss. Hell is where the cooks are English, the policemen German, the mechanics French, everything is organized by the Italians, and the lovers are Swiss.”

My own personal experience confirms that the bad reputation of the Swiss as lovers is not based on their physical skills. Instead I believe it is a matter of linguistics. ………The Swiss, alas, are taught by example and early training that emotions are not to be expressed verbally…….. even if they manage to overcome their emotional hang-ups and genuinely want to express their feelings, they simply don’t have the vocabulary to express them! ……..you cant say ‘I Love You’ in Swiss German………..the words exist technically…..but no man or woman in their right mind would say “I lieb di” – it would just sound too corny for words. ……There is nothing more shallow and frivolous to a Swiss than the way in which Americans manage to end a routine phone conversation with a casual “love you, darling!” To the Swiss, this borders on heresy. Love is serious business. ….If talking about love is difficult, talking about lust is near impossible……Swiss-German is no better than German in matters of eroticism. Even compared to English (itself not the world’s greatest language for love), the Swiss-German language is not long on terms that might come in handy in the bedroom. For example, sex-expert Carol Queen’s “Exhibitionism for the Shy” lists 61 possible English terms for the female genitalia and 54 for the male parts. I don’t think many people could come up with more than six each in (Swiss-) German, half of which sound so clinical, they could only be used in the presence of a doctor, and the other half so vulgar, that few people are comfortable using them with their spouses.

Choices by Karen Laudenslager McDermott
At the local grocery where I have shopped for sixteen years, they still don’t know me. They never behave as though they’ve seen me before. ‘They’ being, almost without exception, the same employees.
In this beautiful country ringed with mountains, each home is bordered by a high hedge, each hemmed in like a separate valley. We cut our side, they cut theirs, with subtle timing, a kind of dance – who cuts first? How low?

There are Swiss who lament the insularity, the oft-declared lack of creativity endangered by such a structured society. “Too soft here; nothing happens,” they’ll tell you.

Making Friends by Roger Bonner
An incorrigible wit once said that it takes five years to make friends with the Swiss and a lifetime to get rid of them.
Nothing baffles a newcomer to Switzerland more than how to get to know these elusive people. You will wait in vain for the knock on the door from a neighbor ……….In Switzerland, you must go and introduce yourself.
If you do, most likely you will be met with a reserved “Gruezi” and, if you’re lucky, a quick introduction of “Ich bin Frau Meier”………And there the matter rests. The next time you meet her in the hallway or lift, she will give you a quick “Gueta Tag,” followed by a fleeting smile, eyes averted. This can go on for one year or forty, unless some unforeseen event breaks the ice, a flood in the cellar, say, or a nuclear war where you are forced to action, for the Swiss love nothing more than a common goal.
Once you have joined forces in a club or choir, you will find the Swiss very friendly indeed. It’s just that first step they are reluctant to take. And if you are a foreigner, there is the language barrier. Don’t expect a Swiss to warm up to you when you never bother to learn some Schwyzerd├╝tsch. Memorizing a few phrases will melt their hearts, and you will be overwhelmed with compliments. ……..Having passed this first hurdle, you might even be lucky enough to get an invitation to a Swiss home – which can easily take up to five years. But afterwards you will have a faithful friend right up to the cemetery, that ultimate and most final of common goals.

Sounding Brass by Gay Scott O’Connor
…by becoming the world’s watchmakers par excellence, they’ve got both punctuality and profit down to the finest art on the planet. Every minute, every hour, every franc must be gainfully employed. Nothing is ever wasted in Switzerland.

…….that puzzling Helvetic preoccupation with BELLS. The Swiss, apart from an occasional outburst of Fasnacht, are a pretty reserved race and disturbing the neighbours ranks as sin even more shocking than squandering your savings or being late.
Don’t even consider such riotous excesses as lawn-mowing on a Sunday, or the people next door will promptly phone the police ……..Blocks of flats are low-key places where so much as raising your voice on the staircase is frowned on, and even infants are kept (God knows how), rigorously plugged up.
But although adults, kids, dogs, cats, gerbils, parakeets and all other forms of animate existence are forbidden to shout, shriek, stamp, whistle or in any way offend against the hallowed peace and quiet of the Swiss landscape, bells are not just permitted but downright encouraged to royally raise the roof. ……….the cows had bells. Big bells. Loud ones………. Small or young animals such as calves, sheep and goats wear tinkling little chimes…..what in heaven’s name are all these riotous bells actually for?.... The bells are a status symbol: they proclaim the farmers’ wealth………And……Cows, as I learned to my cost, apparently never sleep. Even at midnight, as every clanging chew of the cud triumphantly proclaims, these stalwart perambulating milk factories are doggedly on the job. The racket that robbed me of my slumbers was, for the farmer, a soothing lullaby; a reassurance that, down in every pendulous udder, the butterfat was mounting up, like interest in the bank. Time is money and mustn’t be wasted, even by bovines. Not in Switzerland.

Here or There, Us or Them by Verena Bakri
During my visits to Switzerland I notice a tremendous amount of wastage, be it with food, clothing, commodities, paper, anything. Children are given generously food, toys, clothing and when they are fed up with these things, they just throw them in the dustbin. I always feel a sense of injustice when seeing this………. I notice a great trend towards recycling and making better use out of everything in Switzerland. But I will never come to terms with the continuous waste of water. How many idle running faucets have I turned off on my visits!

Testing Times by Paul Bilton
One annoying feature of Swiss workers, regardless of their trade, is that they always declare a job to be completely impossible before they start and then go on to complete it without problem.

Women Only by Karin Kamp
Living in Switzerland has allowed me to become acquainted with the public swimming pool concept, which is non-existent in New Jersey, where I’m originally from. This summer, a Swiss friend asked if I wanted to go to the ‘women only’ pool in Basel. “That way we can take off our tops,” she said.
Oops. We just don’t do that in New Jersey……

The Art of Swiss German by Dianne Dicks
……how do you learn a language like Swiss German that’s only spoken and rarely written? …….But everybody pronounces it differently! Just as food, laws and education vary from canton to canton, so does the language………Find any two speakers……they will never in a lifetime ever agree on an official spelling or pronunciation. That, in an essence, is what Switzerland is about.
Before social mobility became a necessity here, every valley developed its own mini-dialect and sound patterns.

Tips for Doing Business by Enid Kopper
The Swiss are discrete about wealth. Do not wear ostentatious jewelry, fur coats, etc.

In Search of a Plot by Sue Stafford
Land for buildings is expensive, and Switzerland has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

From ‘Ramana Maharshi’ by K Swaminathan


Sri Ramana is as typical a flower of Tamil culture with its rigorous intellectual precision, as Sri Ramakrishna is of Bengali culture with its emotional warmth, and Gandhiji of Gujarati culture with its brisk down-to-earth practicality.

“Religions – whether Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Theosophy or any other system – can only take us to the one point where all religions meet, and no further. That one point is the understanding of the fact – in no mystical sense but in the most worldly and everyday sense and the more worldly and everyday and practical the better – that God is everything and everything is God.” But this face of the immanence of God is not to be merely intellectually comprehended but realized and experienced through continuous practice.

Paul Brunton thus describes the impact on him of the Maharshi’s silent presence: “I cannot turn my gaze away from him. My initial bewilderment, my perplexity at being totally ignored, slowly fade away as this strange fascination begins to grip me more firmly. But it is not till the second hour of the uncommon scene that I become aware of a silent, resistless change which is taking place within my mind. One by one, the questions which I prepared in the train with such meticulous accuracy drop away. For it does not now seem to matter whether I solve the problems which hitherto troubled me. I know only that a steady river of quietness seems to be flowing near me, that a great peace is penetrating the inner reaches of my being, and that my thought-tortured brain is beginning to arrive at some rest”. The primacy of living personality over doctrine, the experience attested to by the English journalist, is part of the Hindu tradition and has been affirmed recently by the Kanchi Acharya himself, who says: “No religion spreads because of its doctrines. People do not care much for doctrine. When there appears a man of outstanding goodness in life and conduct, filled with compassio0on and tranquility, people trust him the moment they set eyes on him, they accept his teaching because they are convinced that the doctrines upheld by such a man must be sound. On the other hand, a doctrine, however sound or true, has no appeal to common people, if its advocates fail in conduct.”

As long as there are vasanas in the mind, so long the inquiry ‘Who am I?’ is required. As thoughts arise they should be destroyed then and there in the very place of their origin, through inquiry.

The ego-mind, controlled by breath regulation, can be destroyed once for all by ekachintana, aikyanusandhana, one-pointed dwelling on oneness. The mind, turned inward, kept alert and scanning its own form and nature, discovers that there is no such continuous entity as a separate mind, that one’s mind is only made up of thoughts, that all other thoughts spring from the ‘I’ thought, the source and the relentless upholder of the sense of separateness.
Searching for the source of the ‘I’-thought, the mind confronts and is overwhelmed by pure unbroken awareness, which is our true being.

Realizing the Self is only letting go the non-self. “Don’t worry about nadis, kundalinis or the six centres. The intricate maze of philosophy, instead of clarifying matters, only creates endless confusion. The Self is obvious and ever present. Why not remain as the Self? Why explain the non-self?” Religion itself he calls “a great game of pretending“. “The aim of all religions is to take us back to our pristine state of being-awareness-bliss. To teach this simple truth, so many schools, books, creeds, methods have come into being, because people want complexity. They want elaborate and puzzling things that give rise to dispute. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, within your grasp, right in your midst. This is the simple truth. But only a mature mind can grasp it in its nakedness. Instead of being and behaving as the Self and beginning a new life, people want to know all about heaven, hell, reincarnation and other mysteries, and the so-called religions pamper them. After all these wanderings you must return only to the Self. Then why not abide in the Self, right now, here? Leave off all this verbiage and be as you are, See who you are and remain as the Self, as awareness, free from birth, coming, going and returning. Why so many efforts and so much discipline to eradicate the illusory avidya?”

……. “A person who remembers the I within the heart is not concerned with questions of right and wrong. His actions are God’s and therefore are always right.” …….. “The antarmukhi, one whose mind is turned inwards, has no need of Sastra or scriptural authority. The Self is not in books. It is in us.” ……… “One must be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of truth. The degree of renunciation is the measure of one’s progress. Desires cannot be weakened by yielding to them ……….Self-restraint is needed and it is strengthened by knowledge. Know that you are not the mind and that desires are in the mind. Knowing this helps to control them. Repeated attempts to desist from yielding, will, in due course, weaken the desires. Never forget your true nature as self awareness.”

“Self-reform automatically brings about social reform. Stick to self-reform, social reform will take care of itself. Acquire strength by surrender and you will find your surroundings improve in direct proportion to the strength acquired by you.”

Far from revealing truth,
Words only darken and conceal.
To let the truth shine of itself
Instead of being buried in words,
Merge in the hear both word and thought.     (525)

Since one’s own past effort it is
That has ripened into fate,
One can with greater present effort
Change one’s fate.                                          (692)

The boat moves in the water, but
Water should not enter it.
Though we live in the world, the world
Should not occupy our mind.                         (822)


From ‘Grist for the Mill. Awakening to oneness’ by Ram Dass. With Stephen Levine


In India when we meet and part we often say, “Namaste,” which means: I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where, if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.

……….to receive this transmission requires much more than the mind. It requires a desire in us – to use this birth in order to become who, in truth, we are. It requires a desire to become free of the kinds of clinging and attachment that keep distorting and narrowing our vision. It requires that we truly desire to know what we are doing here, what our function is here on Earth.

Meditation is a way of listening more and more deeply, so we hear from a more profound space, exactly how it is. To hear how it is, we must be open to it, thus the open heart.

……the Sixth Zen Patriarch reiterates, “Develop a mind which clings to naught.”

In Japan when a person is dying, a screen is placed at the foot of the bed showing the Pure Land of the Buddha. He can focus on that screen, so that as death occurs, the last thoughts are about reaching out.

In the Eastern tradition, the state of your consciousness at the last moment of life is so crucial that you spend your whole life preparing for that moment. ……….There is a story about an old Zen monk who was dying, who had finished everything and was about to get off the wheel. He was just floating away, free and in his pure Buddha-mind, when a thought passed by of a beautiful deer he had once seen in a field. And he held on to that thought for just a second because of its beauty, and immediately he took birth again as a deer. It’s as subtle as that.

As we get more disciplined, we keep the energy moving toward that point where form and formless meet. Were we to stay in the formless, our bodies – which we left behind – would disintegrate, for there would be no consciousness to keep them going. There are all gradations, and some beings are 99 percent in that ocean of formlessness and leave behind just a thread in form. There was a being walled up in a cave for twenty years; every year devotees would go to see him and have darshan with what was a skeleton, except the hair and the nails kept growing. He just left a thread behind to give darshan to the devotees.

How do you interpret dreams?
In general, I’m inclined to suggest we shouldn’t do too much analytic work in this dance, because our minds play too many tricks. If the dream has an immediate significance that affects you emotionally, work with it……… Don’t sit and analyze or wonder or get preoccupied with it. It all has meaning. It’s all work you’re doing on other planes. It is significant spiritually, but you don’t always have to understand it. ……….its all just more stuff. Go for broke, awake totally.


The process of purification is preparing ourselves as containers to handle more and more energy, more and more love – and for that we need quieter and quieter minds, and stronger bodies, and more open hearts.


How do you open your heart?
A good exercise is to do deep breathing in and out of the heart as though it had nostrils, right in and out of the heart. You can use that breath to ferret out those places in you where there is a deep sadness or some deep attachments that are slowing your progress.


What part does diet play in spiritual work?
…..at different stages of our sadhana, different diets are indicated. We start to be pulled toward them. These are not based on morality. They are based on what vibratory rates we can ingest and transmute. And there are stages where we can’t handle meat because of the vibratory rate, the rajasic, active quality of it, the hot intense passion of the stuff. We can’t get calm through it. So our diet starts to lighten up, to fish and eggs, and vegetables and grains, dairy products and fruit. When we can’t handle that, pretty soon we might get down to grains and dairy products, vegetables and fruit. Then there are times when we can’t handle anything but fruit. And then we may go through a stage where we are so connected and clear and beyond it that we can eat anything again.
Certain diets will help purify the system……….. Simple vegetarian diets often help. But don’t get into a good-and-evil trip about it. ……..I must honestly tell you that people have been liberated eating anything, so the game is clearly not going to be that simple.


From ‘I'm over all that. And other confessions’ by Shirley MacLaine


…..there was much for me to learn in India. The Hindu religion had a lot to teach me in terms of the spiritual sciences: yoga, meditation, diet, reincarnation, and the power of passive resistance

……..Thornton Wilder’s quote in The Matchmaker: “Money is like manure. It should be spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

When I’ve worked with brilliant actors who seem so real when they act a part, I’ve come to realize that underneath they are real to themselves

The price of freedom is sometimes loneliness. We all know that. But how many of us have found loneliness with someone? That’s the real sadness.

Hollywood is not the most conducive place to develop friendships. On the other hand, I’ve found it to be my most thorough teacher.

The secrets of the universe are in a dog’s eyes. Their eyes convey the patient wisdom of a collective understanding.

As Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created the problem.”

After so much searching and travelling, I cant get over the belief that the philosophic and spiritual centres of ancient Greece, Egypt and India were superior to our mechanistic, technological, and cynically skeptical culture of today.


From ‘Runner. A short story about a long run’ by Lizzy Hawker


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Stillness is what creates love. Movement is what creates life. To be still and still moving – this is everything
-          Do Hyun Choe

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and
strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary
negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime.
Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from
the beginning think what may be the end
-          Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

Life is crying out for our presence. As Alan Watts so eloquently puts it: ‘For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones – for it is the secret of proper training. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.’

I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be
-          Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

As Carl Sagan said: ‘We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.’

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
-          Lao Tzu

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
-          Buddha (attrib.)


Jeff Lowe, a legendary mountain climber, has said, ‘Climbing can be like a meditation, where everything else falls away and you’re so focused for a long period of time that when you come out of that, you usually have a better perspective.’

From ‘The Heat and Dust project. The broke couple's guide to Bharat’ by Devapriya Roy, Saurav Jha


Outside, the bus station buzzes with activity. Already our ears seem attuned to the familiar mixed noises: travelers, conductors, salesmen, eccentrics. Among the smells that stream in, the most prominent is a stench of urine. Over the months we will recognize this as the unifying trait of bus stands across the country.

…..Robert Svoboda’s Aghora. Apparently, the only sense spirits employ is that of smell – the reason why across cultures incense is employed to show respect to ancestors or household gods and goddesses. Now, overripe jackfruit and bananas and strong oily pickles have a fecund musk that attract spirits – mostly naughty ones at that – to themselves. And with naughty spirits at play, cacophony ensues. Bad things might happen.

Gujarat is, of course, famous for ice cream …..

…..jodi hao sujon, tentul paatay no ‘jon (If your heart’s in the right place/ Nine people can be accommodated on a tamarind leaf)

….the aroma of chickpeas, that most favoured ingredient in Gujarat.

It took me quite a while to become an experienced vacationer, because travelling was not something you did much in Russia, at least not by your choice. Because we were not allowed to move freely, we used to approach our vacation time with a different attitude. We used to brag about places we couldn’t go. A typical vacation discussion sounded something like this:
Alexei: I can’t go to Miami this year!
Nikolai: Miami? You call that a vacation? I can’t go to Paris!
-          Comedian Yakov Smirnoff

….Mathura is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in India. If in the age of the Buddha, it is recorded that Mathura suffered from bad roads, dust storms and an infestation of wild dogs, between the second century BC and third century AD, it was a leading metropolis on the trade route, renowned for its magnificence, prosperity and the generosity of its populace.

…..Mathura ki beti/ Mathura ki gai/ Bhaag phute/ Toh baahar jai.’ (A daughter of Mathura/ Its milch cow too/ Only if her luck runs out/ Will she look for a city new.)

Not only is it a rich and ancient civilization but you wouldn’t BELIEVE what you can get in the chemists without a prescription.
-          Dexter Mayhew in a letter to Emma Morley……..


Sair kar duniya, ki gaafil zindagaani phir kahaan?
Zindagi gar kuchh rahi, toh raujavaani phir kahaan?

Wander the world, ay drifter, where will you get this life again?
And even if life remained, where would you find this youth again?

-          Immortal lines by Ismail Merathi. Quoted by Rahul Sankrityayan in his famous essay ‘Athato Ghumakkad Jigyasa’.

From ‘On the Wheels’ by Y S Hirlekar

[Yashwant Shankar Hirlekar’s 6000 miles of cycle travel in India and Sri Lanka in 1935]

…..Portugese Territory ….Goa ……streets are quite full of bars and toddy shops; and no one here seems to be more sober than when drunk.
Oddly enough the Roman Catholic Churches flourish alongside the pubs.

……..Gersoppa Falls …..In point of abruptness of fall it is said to stand foremost in the world.

…..Colombo ……The people are mostly Buddhists. But the advent of the Portugese has made many Singhalese take to Christian names without conversion to that faith.

…Ceylon ….The scenery on the highlands is picturesque; but the tea and rubber plantations make it somewhat monotonous……The workers in these plantations, which are mostly European concerns, are all Tamilians, as no Singhalese will work under men of other castes – so independent and proud are they. Wherever a Singhalese accepts any job, he at once develops the feeling that he is a manager and begins to issue orders. Sometimes he does not listen even to his superiors-an attitude that makes him unwelcome as a worker and brings about his speedy dismissal.
The Singhalese male workers are lazy when compared to their women. There are several instances of women supporting the idle men from the fruits of their hard work.

Jaffna ….The people here are practically Tamils….The place is a Roman Catholic See and missionaries practically control the education. Hence most of the Hindu boys and girls who attend the Christian colleges get converted; but the parents have in several instances retained their religion. The poverty of the people is yet another potent factor in the conversion of a large number of Hindus here into Christians.


From ‘The Turk who loved Apples and other tales of losing my way around the world’ by Matt Gross


In Vietnam, hierarchy is built into the language. Everyone is either your superior or your inferior, and there’s no one word for “you.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
-          Mark Twain.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the travelers is unaware.”
-          Martin Buber

“Not all those who wander are lost.”
-          J.R.R. Tolkien.

….. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read but one page.”


From ‘Buddha or Bust. In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man who found them all’ by Perry Garfinkel


You can’t ever get everything you want. It is impossible and you will never fully succeed. Luckily, there is another option; you can learn to control your mind, to stop outside of this endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to want what you want, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.
-          The Buddha

“…..first you must learn what the Buddha learned, to still the mind. Then you don’t take action; action takes you.”

Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.
-          Albert Einstein, in Albert Einstein: The Human Side

Attaching electrodes to the foreheads of Tibetan Buddhist lamas while they were meditating, researchers found that the activity stimulated in several regions of their left prefrontal cortexes – an area of the brain just behind the forehead that recent research had associated with positive emotion – was especially high. That is, he proved neurologically that meditation could indeed make you happier.

Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.
-          The Buddha

[Buddha] ….Discrepancies about many facts of his life are the rule, not the exception, including even when and where he was born. Years of his life are unaccounted for. The earliest recorded evidence of him, his talks or his teachings postdate his life by 500 years. We cannot accurately chart his itinerary. We have no idea whatsoever how he may have looked, and know even less what his personality was like.

The Buddha did not intend his ideas to become a religion; in fact, he discouraged following any path or anyone’s advice without testing it personally. His dying words, as its told, were “Work out your own salvation; do not depend on others.”

….Buddhism …..one of the major religions of Asia. Today, with 379 million followers …..All this from an inquiring mind that simply wanted to know:
“Who am I?”
“Why am I here?”
“How can I find happiness”


Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
(Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment. “Hallelujah!”)
-          The Buddha, from the Heart Sutra, also called the Prajnaparamita Sutra

….the Hindu word darsana, which “literally means ‘seeing’ or ‘viewing’ but also carries a more profound concept of essentially identifying with the events that one ‘sees.’”
The idea is much more than just witnessing or observing an important event in the sense that one who experiences darsana of an event becomes part of it and the merit or other benefits that might be gained by the principal participants are also gained to a lesser degree by the observer. ….In Buddhism, even beings in the most unfortunate of births can accrue merit simply being present and observing events surrounding the teachings of the Dharma.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else: you are the one who gets burned.
-          The Buddha

Hermann Hesse had written some lines about suffering …. “You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation …..and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”

You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.
-          The Buddha

….he spoke… in that wonderfully singsongy but often incomprehensible Indian English ……in Asia the reverence people show for this man [Buddha] doesn’t necessarily have to do with religion or theology. To him, and many other Hindu Indians, the Buddha is more a historically significant figure, sometimes a Hindu deity, sometimes a human being whose ideas, values and actions deserve the highest respect, like a really good role model.
Buddhism is called the ecological religion, he said, citing the Buddha’s words: “Like a bee gathering nectar, a human is required to make appropriate use of nature so that the continuity of a beneficial pattern of man/nature relationship is not threatened. Ask a householder to accumulate wealth in ways similar to the one adopted by a bee in collecting nectar to turn into sweet honey without harming either the fragrance or the beauty of the flower.”
Mr.Safaya added, “I cannot today imagine any better definition of sustainable development than this clear statement.”

Those who are suffering from some form of insanity cling to their own phantom Ego, and those who have an exaggerated idea of their own Egos are partially insane. Nirvana is for the sober scientific analytical student, who discarding all forms of theological metaphysics, priestly ceremonies and nihilistic ideas, exerts strenuously to lead an active life avoiding evil, doing good and purifying the heart.
-          Anagarika Dharmapala

All tremble at violence; all fear death. Seeing others as being like yourself, do not kill or cause others to kill
-          The Buddha, The Dhammapada

……..Sri Lanka ……palms gently bowing with the winds. In stark contrast to the teeming intensity of India, it immediately evoked memories of tranquil tropical isles of my past and I naturally relaxed.

As long as there are monastics who delight in living in the forest, at the foot of trees, the way of the Awakened One will not decline.”
-          The Buddha, “Digha Nikaya II”

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
-          Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

…..Thailand …..a country where 94 percent of the 64 million people are Buddhist, a country so committed to Buddhism that by order of the national constitution, the king is required to be Buddhistt.

……..all of Bangkok – a city strangled by traffic, suffering from noise and air pollution and appearing eternally under construction – reeked of commercialism

…..I wanted to meet with only two or three people at once, but that is not easy in Asia. Asians are used to being in larger groups.

……Thailand ……Since the end of World War II, the percentage of area covered by forest has dropped from 70 to about 25…..

The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world. Through this I know the advantage of taking no action
-          Lao-Tzu

Eating is entertainment to the Chinese, and they go at it with a gusto unparalleled even in San Francisco, a city of foodies……

Buddhism reached the height of its popularity in China during the Sui and T’ang dynasties (581-907). However, in 845 CE Emperor Wuzong, under the influence of Taoist and Confucian advisers, began to persecute all foreign religions, including Buddhism. According to records of the time, some 4,600 Buddhist monasteries were annihilated, massive amounts of priceless artwork were destroyed and about 260,000 monks and nuns were forced to return to lay life. Buddhism never completely returned.

Late imperial China – covering the period from the Sung dynasty (960-1279) until the end of the Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912) – continued the period of Buddhism’s decline. Though its influence on Chinese culture was pervasive, as seen in art and literature, it was receding as an intellectual endeavor. “The shift of the Chinese elite’s interest away from Buddhism and toward Confucianism, as formulated by its great systematizer Zhu Xi (1130-1200), was official state orthodoxy during the 14th century,” ……….

She had….a robust laugh, unusual for Asian women, who usually cover their mouths when they laugh delicately.

You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
-          Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Like a beautiful flower, full of colour, but without scent, are the fine but fruitless words of him who does not act accordingly. But, like a beautiful flower, full of colour and full of scent, are the fine and fruitful words of him who acts accordingly.
-          The Buddha, The Dhammapada

The Japanese are not comfortable with the world of feelings, not comfortable with the words “I,” “me” or “my.”

Students of Zen call it the “aha moment,” when ideas align in such a way that you “get it,” whatever the “it” of the moment is. This epiphany often occurs when one’s rational mind gives up trying to decipher the indecipherable and goes tilt. Aha, Truth!

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
-          The Buddha

…..a fairly significant percentage of American Buddhists – I have read as many as 30 percent – are of Jewish background (Jews comprise about 2.5 percent of the American population) …….Both Jews and Buddhists, who share a tendency toward answering a question with another question, would inquire, why not?
Jews are intellectual. Buddhism is the philosophy of mind. Jews have been subjected to persecution since the founding of the religion. Buddhism acknowledges that suffering is a part of life and offers a system of alleviating the pains associated with it. Buddhists chant “Om.” Jews chant “Oy.” Jews are analytical. Talmudic study requires the most detailed scrutiny of Jewish scriptures, right down to a numerological interpretation of each letter of each word. Freud, a Jew, developed a system of studying the mind called psychoanalysis. Buddhism is nothing if not analytical …….

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and its all over much too soon
-          Woody Allen

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.
-          The Buddha

True greatness consists in the use of a powerful understanding to enlighten oneself and others.
-          Voltaire

The hope of all men, in the last analysis, is simply for peace of mind.
-          Dalai Lama

It’s hard to find a noble person such a person is not born everywhere. When such a wise one is born, the family flourishes in happiness.
-          The Buddha, The Dhammapada

If you have met a Tibetan person in Boulder or Seattle or Boston, you are often struck by how easily they laugh, how radiant their faces are, how their eyes seem to dance and how, in the older ones, they exude some knowledge for which you and I will never find the Web site. They seem unburdened of, and not bothered by, the incessant white noise Westerners call their minds.

The one rule, which seems to be appropriate upon meeting any Buddhist priest of any rank throughout Asia, is “Look but don’t touch.”

……Dalai Lama ……He has told me that he does not proselytize Buddhism, that he rather promotes “human values.” Nonetheless, without ever intending to, he is Buddhism’s best advertising agency.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
-          Zen Buddhist proverb

For someone at the journey’s end, freed from sorrow, liberated in all ways, released from all bonds, no fever exists.
-          The Buddha, The Dhammapada

In my end is my beginning.
-          T. S. Eliot

“You don't have a pot to piss in” [doesn't have anything of value; very poor]

“A dog can only be a dog.”
-          Hoitsu Suzuki

“The reality is …”
-          Dalai Lama

“What is good? What is bad?”
-          Eido Shimano

“Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence …”
-          Satya Narayan Goenka